Thursday, December 20, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Broad-minded … not
Bookending the year with scandals, the Nationals are moribund


The Nationals in 2018 have become an embarrassment to federal politics and, more importantly, to rural and regional Australia, which they purport to represent, but determinedly do not. If the owners of the “weatherboard and iron” homes across country Australia didn’t already have their baseball bats handy, the “sugar daddy” scandal that crashed the career of frontbencher Andrew Broad must surely have spurred them on. Country independents, the Shooters, Farmers and Fishers, One Nation and Katter’s Australia Party must relish the prospect of picking off seats held by a party that has turned moribund. Underwhelming Nationals leader Michael McCormack, currently acting PM, was on borrowed time anyway, being criticised for a lack of cut-through by his colleagues and circled by a miraculously rehabilitated Barnaby Joyce. Now a more sensible leadership alternative is openly canvassed: deputy leader Bridget McKenzie, who today has not ruled out a switch from the Senate to contest Broad’s Victorian seat of Mallee. The clock is ticking.

It is Broad’s arch hypocrisy, more than anything, that undid him so spectacularly. Like Joyce, Broad positioned himself as a defender of traditional family values, loudly opposing same-sex marriage. Like Joyce, it was all cant. What’s more, Broad’s views were out of step with those of his constituents, who voted “Yes” by 54–46 in last year’s postal survey, which has proved an acid test of the politicians who are genuinely in touch with their communities. (On the flipside, it remains to be seen whether there will be an electoral backlash against Labor members who voted for same-sex marriage, even though their electorate was opposed, for example in western and south-western Sydney.)

Commentary has been scathing. Take The Sydney Morning Herald’s Jacqueline Maley, who wrote that the laughter at Broad “has a hysterical edge because seriously … seriously guys? This is what we pay you for?” Crikey’s Bernard Keane asked [$], “What is it about the Nationals that makes them behave so irresponsibly? Simple: they don’t behave responsibly because they’re never held to account.” The sense of National Party entitlement to these safe country electorates is palpable. The ABC reports that the party “expected Mr Broad would hold the seat for decades and his political demise has caught [them] off-guard and without a succession plan”.

The Guardian’s Gabrielle Chan, author of Rusted Off, wrote that Broad’s seat could be vulnerable despite the Nationals’ 20 per cent margin, pointing to the success in the recent Victorian election of independent Ali Cupper in the seat of Mildura. Cupper is a feminist vegan who supported same-sex marriage and supports climate action, and who took on the Nationals in a tough op-ed that questioned the party’s very ethos:

As for the image of the National Party ‘good bloke’ – the genuine, salt of the earth country gentleman – it was fast losing its credibility anyway … National party donors were busted by Four Corners for scamming taxpayers and killing the Darling River, LGBTI Australians were compared to rams mounting each other in paddocks, the leader of the federal Nats was caught cheating on his wife with a young staffer, free access to the cancer-preventing Gardasil vaccine was opposed on the basis it would make young women promiscuous. This is not what ‘good blokes’ think or say in a modern regional community.

Broad was a key McCormack supporter when he took over the leadership from Joyce. In a divided party room, with the numbers tight, McCormack now is extremely vulnerable. Today, The Courier-Mail reported [$] that he had a “target on his back” as colleagues accused him of hiding Broad’s “sugar babe” scandal to protect himself from being rolled. McCormack attacked leakers among his Coalition colleagues, telling The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age thatSurely they can see what’s going to happen if they keep this up. Maybe some of them haven’t been in the cold, desolate days of opposition.” It’s summer now, but McCormack had better rug up.

since this morning

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has visited Australian troops in Iraq, thanking them for their service ahead of the festive season.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham has quit what he refers to as the “toxic” party to run as an independent, while The Australian reports [$] that Bob Brown says he was shut out of an independent review into the NSW Greens because he was “too moderate”.

A company run by Pauline Hanson’s chief adviser, James Ashby, has been fined $1000 and convicted for failing to promptly provide information about an aircraft used by the One Nation leader.

in case you missed it

Victorian Liberal powerbrokers Paul Mitchell and Marcus Bastiaan exchanged text messages that used homophobic and racist references to describe party members and supporters in the lead-up to this year’s and last year’s state conferences, according to The Age.

Labor has rejected a Coalition plan to let MPs vote on legislation via a mobile phone app, calling it indulgent and wasteful.

The Australian Industry Group has written to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, imploring him to resist union pressure on industry bargaining after revelations the ALP has privately committed to the policy.

The Australian reports [$] that NSW Energy Minister Don Harwin, who yesterday attacked Scott Morrison’s energy policy and is lobbying for more renewables and emissions cuts, invited the state’s biggest coalminers to a $990-a-head Liberal Party fundraising dinner last month.

A child asylum seeker who was allegedly raped on Nauru is suing the federal government over accusations that it failed in its duty of care.

A government-ordered review of Indigenous deaths in custody has been described by a group of leading Indigenous and social academics as “misleadingly positive”, having “the potential to misinform policy” and “largely worthless”.

by Shane Danielsen
Paweł Pawlikowski’s perfectly formed ‘Cold War’
Not a moment is wasted in what could be the Polish director’s masterpiece

by Andy Butler
‘Primavera 2018: Young Australian Artists’ at the MCA
This exhibition of the up-and-coming asks complex questions about who we are

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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